Nasty, toxic life-threatening nuclear waste will be left for future generations

[ Below is an excerpt from the 7 March 2012 NewScientist editorial Fukushima’s dirty inheritance.

Since human population growth was enabled to grow from 1 to 7.5 billion because of fossil fuel production (highly correlated, their exponential growth curves match), as oil and other fossils decline, human population will decline similarly.  Then the survivors will have to cope with the crazy weather and rising sea levels of climate change.  Those who survive that now have to deal with the highly toxic nuclear wastes!  Once oil shortages hit, I seriously doubt that remaining fuel will be used to bury nuclear waste. Instead it will be used for agriculture and fighting wars to get more oil.  We need to bury the nuclear waste now, while we still have energy, it’s one of the few things we can do for future generations… The best book I know of on nuclear waste is Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste. Alice Friedemann ]

The world’s 400-plus power reactors are now 27 years old, on average. Dozens are reaching the end of their lives, and at some point they must be dismantled and their contents made safe.

This is expensive, time-consuming work that involves the disposal of vast amounts of radioactive concrete, steel and much else. Although these materials are not as “hot” as the spent fuel, which must also be disposed of, the sheer quantities involved are daunting.

There is a growing backlog of defunct reactors waiting to be decommissioned. But even the world’s biggest nuclear powers, such as the US, do not yet have the trained staff or institutional skills needed to manage the Herculean task of cleaning up all these stations.

One pragmatic response is to postpone decommissioning, perhaps for decades, on the basis that radioactive decay will eventually reduce the scale of the task. The UK alone has more than 20 nuclear hulks in what is euphemistically termed “care and maintenance”. That may be sensible: cleaner waste means less risk for the clean-up crew.

But we have no right to simply foist this problem on future generations, who will be ill-equipped to address it if we do not start amassing the necessary expertise and infrastructure now.

“We cannot simply foist this problem on future generations who will be ill-equipped to address it.

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